How to Get Your Writing . . . Read!

by Anne Wayman

get your writing readTwo key tactics and the single most important tool that you can use
to make sure your readers will read,
understand and
even enjoy your article.

A guest post by: Steve Maurer

You are a writer. And you write stuff so that other people will read it, right? “Okay, so that’s a no-brainer, Steve,” you say. But, it’s common knowledge that not everything that is written is actually read.

Even when they start reading your work, there are no guarantees that they will truly read all of it, or even part of it. However, you can write strategically so that you effectively increase the chances.

Here’s the first tactic . . .

Tactic 1: Make it easy to scan with formatting

This technique is extremely important when you’re writing for the Web. Even so, it can improve your printed-format writing as well. People, in general, are extremely busy these days. Even more so when they’re on the Internet. Folks want information and they want it now! They want to know if your article is going to provide the information they need . . . quickly.

So, what is the trick to making your article easy to scan? Actually, there are two of them; no, make that three.

1 – Map out your territory with headings and subheads

Using headings and subheadings separates your article into digestible chunks. Not only that, but it provides your readers with a roadmap of where your article is headed.

Here’s an exercise that you can try with your own writing.

Do try this at home! Step back from your monitor until the only things you can read are the headings and subheadings. Scroll down slowly with your mouse. You should be able to get the gist of what this article is about just by reading the headings and subheads. You’ll  know what you’ll find in an instant.

Cool, huh?

Wield headings and subheads wisely, though. Make sure you put as much thought into them as you would the title or headline of your article. They need to entice your reader into devouring the entire article, so make sure they actually mean something.


Oh, by the way. Using a bit of bolding and italicizing has a similar effect as long as you don’t overdo it. Underlining is a throw-back to the old typewriter days. At the time, that’s all we had. However, use the underline sparingly, especially on the Web. It is more of a signal for a hyperlink these days.

That brings us to the second trick to make your article scannable . . .

2 – Give them a break with bullet points

Bullet points are fantastic for getting a lot of information in a little area. Think Reader’s Digest. This venerable magazine has a great reputation for condensing information, making it readable. You can condense your own ideas with bullet points.

Here are some ideas and tips on bullet pointing:

  • Only use one idea or concept per bullet.
  • Don’t make them too long. One or two sentence is usually plenty; much more is a paragraph.
  • You can use them as a miniature table of contents for the great information that follows.

Now we’re ready to tackle the third trick for easy scanning . . .

3 – White space works wonders!

That’s right, white space! One of the key tricks in getting your article read is not so much what you write as what you don’t write. At it is least in the finished product’s formatting. Having copious amounts of white space breaks it up. It makes it look like less of a chore to read. Let me use the well-known, oft-quoted, classic work, Lorem Ipsum, to illustrate.

Glance at this example and tell me, honestly, if you are inclined to read it:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi.Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi.

My eyes glazed over. It made my head spin and my spell checker went crazy. It looks like one big blob of text and is not very appealing.

Now, take a look at the same text, this time with line/paragraph formatting:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.

Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi.

Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

 Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi.

Well, I still don’t understand it (it’s called Greek type and used by designers to indicate text placement), and I think my spell checker just died. But the text looks less foreboding and maybe just a little more inviting to try to read.


I’ll say it again . . . white space works wonders! Try using different layouts in your next piece. Not right now, though, because we’re ready to move on to Tactic #2.

Tactic 2: Make your actual writing easy to read

Consider this sentence:

Whenever your domesticated mammal of the feline species comes in close proximity to my person, it causes my nasal passages to constrict, followed by an explosive burst of exhaled oxygen that erupts vehemently from my nostrils.

Huh? Wouldn’t it be easier to say:

“When your pet cat gets close, I get stuffed up and sneeze.”

1 – Keep your writing simple

You should write to inform or explain, not impress. That means you should probably turn the vocabulary down a notch. Don’t worry. You won’t be talking down to your reader; you’ll be talking directly to her.

Belay the high-sounding hyperboles and the lofty linguistics! Remember, writing is a form of communication. If you really want to be “heard,” write like you talk. Sure, there are times when technical language must be used. But, most of the time things like jargon will just muddle up the article.

Hyperbole, using exaggeration to represent an idea as either more or less significant than it actually is, should be banished as well.

If you get a chance, go to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and look up “jargon.” I love the definitions it gives, especially number 3. If you do it now, hurry back; you won’t want to miss the part about the single most important tool that you can use for readability! It’s coming up soon!

2 – Don’t fear the fragment!

When writing, vary your sentence lengths. If an article is written with nothing but long, drawn out sentences, it becomes boring and hard to read, just like this sentence that I just wrote about long, drawn out sentences, and how they’re boring and hard to read.

Throw in a few short ones. They help.

A bunch.

My high school English teacher would crack my knuckles for that last one. Sometimes sentence fragments help make your writing more enjoyable to read, downright friendly. After all, you use them when you talk.

Right?

Varying the length of your sentences gives your article a sense of rhythm, a pulse of sorts. It revives a dead, boring tome and transforms it into . . . well  . . . a song. Maybe  a not song, per se; but just for giggles, try singing your article. I’m not saying I do it myself . . . well, not that often. But, I’ve heard of writers who do.

Finally – The #1 Readability Tool (and it’s free!)

reading scoreYou might have guessed this already, but the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics tool is invaluable for keeping your writing under control. You can do a search for online F-K tools that you just drop your text into and check. If you use Microsoft Word®, like I do, it’s built into the program already. You may need to enable it, but it’s there.

When you do a manual spell check, the readability statistics are displayed. The main statistic to be concerned with is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Keeping this score between 5 and 8, according to most experts, increases the odds that your article will actually be read.

In fact, I know of at least one professional ad agency that requires their copy to be in the 7-8 range. If it’s too high, they demand a rewrite.

There are some high-falutin’ equations that determine these scores. But much of it is decided by word length and sentence structure. You can lower the score by using simpler words and shorter sentences.

Honest evaluation time

Now, be honest with me. Did you find this article childish? Did you really feel that I was talking down to you?

Was it hard to read and understand? Or did you find it an easy read, learned a little and maybe chuckled a bit?

I hope that you found the topic useful and perhaps just a little bit entertaining. I ran the Flesch-Kincaid tool on this one, by the way.

Grade level is (drum roll here): 5.1

(By the way, that’s without the Lorem Ipsum part.)

Yes, the graphic shown is the actual F-K score for this article, before some minor edits. Keep your score down and your readability goes up. Plain and simple. Try using this tool on your next article and see what happens. The results may surprise you.

So, it’s comment time! What are your thoughts? What tips or tricks do you use to keep your writing fresh and readable?

Dubbed The Plain English Copywriter, Steve Maurer is a freelance writer in Fayetteville, Arkansas and a member of the Professional Writers Alliance. He’s been writing for the Web since 2001, including articles, newsletters, instructional material, ad copy, white papers and blog posts for clients around the globe, across the United States and Canada, and in some small towns. You can contact him at http://www.maurer-copywriting.com

Two newsletters:
About Freelance Writing
Writing With Vision

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by moriza

 

Enjoy this post? You help me immensely when you share it on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, etc. Thanks! Make sure you don’t miss anything!sure you Subscribe in the box on the right & get a FREE copy of my report, The Three Keys to Making Your Writing Pay!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Garth Osborn July 26, 2014 at 10:39 am

Very interesting reading, both the article and the comments. I learned how to use the Flesch-Kincaid tool in MS Word from another article. It is very helpful. I am studying copywriting and hope to complete my course by the end of the summer.

Reply

Steve Maurer July 26, 2014 at 10:49 am

Hi, Garth!
I’m glad to hear you found the article interesting and helpful.

I’m even more thrilled to hear that you are pursuing a copywriting career.

Where are you taking your training?

The best of success to you in your writing career.
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..SEW – Do You Make Mantra?My Profile

Reply

Priska January 21, 2013 at 11:05 am

Thanks Steve,
Some great information for a new blogger starting out.
The comments thread was almost as helpful as the article.
Priska recently posted..Can Positive Thinking distort your view of reality and make life appear worse?My Profile

Reply

Steve Maurer January 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Hi, Priska!

Good to see you here, fellow Huddle member!

I’ve found that the comments are very useful too. It’s great when folks share their ideas and questions. Community helps us all to improve and no one should feel that they don’t have something to share.

Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..An Important Part of Your Marketing StrategyMy Profile

Reply

annew January 22, 2013 at 11:58 am

love community… I guess we really are herding animals or clan animals ;)

Reply

annew January 22, 2013 at 11:53 am

Priska… love your blog, particularly the Can Positive Thinking distort your view of reality and make life appear worse? article… I got caught there once too.

Reply

Elizabeth West January 18, 2013 at 8:12 am

Ohhh, hmmm, that Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level thing is very interesting. I had a first reader tell me there were words in one of my novels that didn’t fit the tone. They were too high on the level for the rest of it. I had lapsed into smartypants talk!

I’m going to run that on my next book. As Mark Twain said, there’s no reason to use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent one will do!
Elizabeth West recently posted..2012 in Review- Happy New Year!My Profile

Reply

Steve Maurer January 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Hi, Elizabith!

I think the Flesh-Kincai-Kincaid will really help your writing. The grade level pertains to school grade level. Most keep it around 7 to 8, at least in advertising. The readability score should be toward the higher end, 65 and above. Much of that score depends on size of words and length of sentences.

Best of success with your writing!
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..An Important Part of Your Marketing StrategyMy Profile

Reply

annew January 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

Thanks for this clarification Steve.

Reply

Steve Maurer January 14, 2013 at 6:13 am

Here’s an interesting side note to this discussion:

I’ve been optimizing my site for the search engines this week (SEO). I have a self-hosted WordPress site. I just installed a new plug-in for SEO called Yoast WordPress SEO and have been using it for optimizing. It’s a really good tool that you can check out here:

http://yoast.com/wordpress/seo/

One of the checks it runs is the Flesch-Kincaid readability score. It uses the reading ease score, not the grade level score. Very interesting the first time I saw it.

Looks like I have a few pages that could use some tweaking!
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

Reply

annew January 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Steve, you’re a fund of info! Thanks so much.

Reply

Lori January 14, 2013 at 5:49 am

To be honest, I use the heads/subheads as my outline. They’re also my interview questions. My subheads do a lot of work. :)

I use good old curiosity. If I’m curious about a topic, I’m going to go looking for the answers, which means the questions are going to be more on point, and the subheads are going to reflect that.

Great time-saver!
Lori recently posted..The Point of Social MediaMy Profile

Reply

Steve Maurer January 14, 2013 at 6:04 am

Hi, Lori

Thanks a great idea. Your headings and subheads really are a type of outline. In fact, whenever I have a piece that I having trouble with, I go back to a blank page and just enter my headings and subheadings.

I write them down randomly as areas to cover. Then I can rearrange them to where the sequence makes sense.

I hadn’t thought of the headings being my research and interview questions, at least not directly. Interesting idea . . . I’m going to try that on my next article.

Thanks for sharing with us!
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?My Profile

Reply

Lori January 14, 2013 at 10:56 am

Steve, it works great to ground your ideas and bring more focus to the article. It also cuts a TON of time out of the writing process. Would love to hear how it works for you!
Lori recently posted..The Point of Social MediaMy Profile

Reply

Steve Maurer January 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Lori,

I will certainly keep in touch with my results.
I did use it a bit for my latest article on my site this morning, but want to do a full-blow “made from heading” article, too.
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..An Important Part of Your Marketing StrategyMy Profile

Reply

Clovia Hamilton January 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Steve, nice article. I’ll have to try out the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics tool!

Reply

Steve Maurer January 12, 2013 at 9:49 am

Hi, Clovia!
It’s easy to use in Microsoft Word and I think you’ll like it. By the way, your site looks terrific. Looks like it’s very interesting work . . . and probably quite challenging too!

Here’s something you might want to try, just for fun. Take some of your most successful ads, etc. and run them through the Flesch-Kincaid tool. Do the same with your least successful ones as well. See how the scores compare!

Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

Reply

annew January 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Have to second Steve re your site… looks like you are the founder too… good for you… if you ever want to do a guest post on writing for non profits… or in your niche, I’d be pleased to post it.

Reply

Steve Maurer January 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hi, Anne!
I would love to take you up on writing another post. I’ve really enjoyed the comments that everyone left on this one. I’ve learned a lot from every one of them.

After all, that what communities like this are for. Sharing ideas, successes and challenges helps all of us.

Say, here are two ideas for readers that are still struggling to find a niche. You can niche in areas in which you have a working knowledge. However, look to some of your passions as well. If you care deeply about a cause or idea, there may be some work for you there.

Anne mentioned non-profits. Do you realize that they are in desparate need of copywriters? You may work some free gigs, but it’s a good place to get clips for your portfolio. But many of these agencies pay quite well.

Another area that is experiencing a boom is ’cause martketing.’ It’s similar to non-profit, but with a twist. Many established organizations and retailers will support charities and other causes with a marketing campaign. This could be a good opportunity for a new copywriter.

If you produce good, quality copy for them, it might lead to additional work in their other ad campaigns.

~Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..An Important Part of Your Marketing StrategyMy Profile

Reply

annew January 15, 2013 at 11:31 am

True, all true… and as a new copywriter gets experience, even non-profits can pay well.

Reply

Amandah January 11, 2013 at 4:35 am

I like the idea of stepping back from your writing and reading the headlines to see if you get the gist of your blog post/article.

Before I post a blog post, I copy and paste it into Word and check for errors. I also check Flesch-Kincaid Readability score to make sure I’m it’s at least 68 and above.

*I think the Flesch-Kincaid score could vary from audience to audience, but I agree that you want to keep your writing simple and free of jargon when necessary.
Amandah recently posted..One Simple Lesson Will Boost Your Non-Profit Organization’s Donations and SupportMy Profile

Reply

annew January 11, 2013 at 7:24 am

I liked that idea too… stepping back and looking at it.

Reply

Steve Maurer January 11, 2013 at 7:31 am

Hi, Amandah!

Thanks for you ideas! The readablity ease score, found just above the grade level is another way to check your writing.
You’re correct; the score may vary from audience to audience. A key point, that you brought out as well, is to keep it simple and as easy to understand as possbile.

Thanks again,
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

Reply

Steve Maurer January 12, 2013 at 9:52 am

Amandah,

Just to satisfy my curiousity, if you don’t mind. I am assuming that you were referring to your blog in your comment. Do you write you blog online and then copy and paste into Word to check for errors?

I normally write in Word first, then copy to blog.
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

Reply

Jesse Lanclos - Cajun Copy January 10, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Steve,
Great thoughts about keeping it easy to read and conversational. Whenever I catch myself writing to impress, I turn on my text to speech software and interview myself for a few minutes about the topic I’m writing about.

This puts me into a conversational frame of mind, so I can get myself back on track. I also like to write as fast as I can without stopping or backtracking. When I write faster, it sounds more conversational than if I edit as I go.

Great tips in this post!
Jesse Lanclos – Cajun Copy recently posted..How to Increase the Sales of Your Product – Without Being Sneaky or PushyMy Profile

Reply

annew January 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

Jesse, great idea. Thanks.

Reply

Steve Maurer January 11, 2013 at 7:34 am

Jesse,
That’s a great idea! I use Dragon Natually Speaking from time to time. Did you know that you can use a digital voice recorder and import that sound file into Dragon? It will then transcribe the file into readable text. And it does a pretty good job of it.

I’ve started a few articles by speaking into my recorder while wandering around our garden. It often gives me a great push when I’m stuck.

Thanks again, Jesse!
I appreciate your input.
Steve
Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

Reply

Leave a Comment

Current day month ye@r *

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: